KANSAS CITY -- When Zack Greinke hurled a 90 mph fastball to Steven Kwan with two strikes and one out in the third inning Sunday afternoon, the 38-year-old didn’t know that pitch was the one that meant history.
He looked at it as just another pitch in one of his starts, happy to see center fielder Kyle Isbel catch it for the second out of what would be a perfect inning.
But it also was Greinke’s 50,000th pitch of his career, logged in the Royals’ 5-1 win over the Guardians on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium. Greinke became the 17th pitcher since 1988 (when data is available) to reach that mark and joins Justin Verlander (50,341) as the only two active pitchers on the list, which is led by Tom Glavine (68,226).
“That’s pretty neat,” Greinke said. “I mean, I haven’t paid attention to any of those. But it sounds like a high number. The 500 starts was more interesting to me, but it was pretty cool.”
The milestone was ‘neat’, but the win was neater for the veteran starter and his club, which won its first series at home since taking two of three against the Twins on April 19-21.
Greinke gave the Royals just what they needed after Saturday’s blowout loss: Five scoreless innings, allowing three hits and a walk with five strikeouts. It was his first scoreless start as a Royal since April 27, 2010 -- 4,457 days ago, when he recorded seven scoreless innings against the Mariners.
Greinke threw 86 pitches through five innings, and the Royals turned to Jose Cuas for a scoreless sixth as the bullpen took it from there.
“Zack set the tone for us,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We keep an eye on his count overall, just see where his body is and then see where we are. We just talk our way through it. Either he gets out there for a partial inning or Jose gets a clean one.
“But we knew we were about the end of that pitch count, and getting to the third time through the order, all things were pointing to giving Cuas a clean inning.”
Greinke was painting his fastball with 10 called strikes on the pitch, and that allowed him to use his curveball at a high clip -- a pitch that’s been inconsistent for him this year. On Sunday, he registered five whiffs on the pitch, with four of those coming on a strikeout.
“He kind of out-veteraned us,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “”He started the game out by expanding with a breaking ball down. Then he got into the game and got his rhythm and he started down with everything and spun it off his fastball.”
“I think it had something to do with throwing a lot of harder pitches,” Greinke said. “Made the curve be more of a surprise. That might have helped it out some. Throwing strikes with the fastball and making them -- if you throw strikes with the curve, sometimes it makes them have to swing at it, where if you just throw balls, they can be way back a little better on it.”
Greinke has a slow curveball, but it was a tick faster than normal on Sunday, averaging 72.6 mph. It tunnels well with the fastball, which is surprising until you remember you’re talking about Greinke and shouldn’t be surprised by really anything he does.
“A lot of times, you’ll talk about having a pop out of the hand,” Matheny said. “But it’s not doing that, and he’s able to manipulate it intentionally to get the kind of break that he does, and it throws on the brakes once it gets toward the plate. It’s an impressive pitch that makes the fastball better if you’re thinking about that one at all. It’s really hard to do anything with.”
Greinke’s ability to stay unpredictable and manipulate the ball in ways not previously thought possible is why he’s putting the finishing touches on a Hall of Fame career.
After all, there’s a lot to be said about 50,000 pitches -- and counting.
“It’s an art,” said Isbel, who hit an RBI single to get the Royals on the board in the second inning. “Every time I get to play center field behind him, it’s super fun. He picks apart lineups better than a lot of pitchers, and playing behind him is a blast. He’s always on the mound ready to pitch and attack. As a defender, you’re always ready to go.”